It was announced yesterday that a group of current Yale undergraduates and young alumni have filed a Title IX complaint against the University. The complaint was filed several weeks ago and yesterday, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced that it will begin an investigation into how the University handles complaints of sexual harassment and assault.
The complainants, a group that comprises sixteen male and female students, allege that because the University has failed to properly respond to sexual harassment and assault, Yale campus is a “hostile environment,” that, in the words of one of the complainants, “precludes women from having the same equal opportunity to the Yale education as their male counterparts.”
The Yale Herald reports:
In the complaint itself, personal testimonies of five students are presented as evidence, alongside accounts of recent high profile instances of sexual harassment on campus. Though it was the latest instance—misogynistic chanting by Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges during an initiation ritual this fall—served as a trigger in the filing of the complaint, it comes in a long line of well-publicized cases. In 2005, fraternity members stole t-shirts inscribed with the testimonies of sexual assault survivors from the Clothesline Project on Cross Campus. In 2008, Zeta Psi pledges were photographed holding a sign emblazoned with “We Love Yale Sluts” outside of the Women’s Center. Though the Center threatened to sue on the grounds of sexual harassment, the case ultimately never materialized. In 2009, a crude email entitled the “Preseason Scouting Report,” which ranked incoming female freshmen based on their sexual desirability, was circulated amongst fraternities and male athletic teams.
While these high-profile examples have no doubt contributed to the “hostile environment” to which the complainants object, the other major problem is how Yale responds when a student reports that he or she has been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Yale, like many universities, prefers to handle cases of sexual and harassment internally rather than turning to the courts. The complainants believe that in doing so, the University doesn’t prosecute perpetrators harshly enough. As one of the complainants told the Yale Herald, “plagiarism is something people are expelled or suspended for, but there seems to be a near-infinite tolerance for rape.” The group of sixteen also believe that Yale student who are subject to sexual violence do not have adequate access to external means of redress, like rape kits and outside legal representation.
It’s easy to understand why Yale and so many other universities – my own alma mater most certainly included – prefer to handle cases of sexual violence as quietly as possible, and without involving the legal system. As craven as it is, and as much as I disagree with it, the motive is clear: Yale has a reputation to protect. Yale, a three-hundred-year-old Ivy League institution, is one of the greatest universities in the country and in the world. Yale turns out world leaders and captains of industry. Yale does not turn out rapists. And if it does, the administration sure as hell doesn’t want the mainstream media finding out about it.
What’s happening now – the media attention being focused on public acts of misogyny and private acts of violence against women at Yale – is the last thing Yale wants. Which is why I’m so grateful for the sixteen brave women and men who have filed this suit. I hope very much that it succeeds and forces real change at Yale and on campuses around the country. But even if it doesn’t, it has brought one glaring, unacceptable truth to light. And that is that when given the choice between investing in real cultural change that would end sexual harassment and assault on campus, and investing in the formation of internal committees and disciplinary boards that keep cases of sexual violence quiet and hidden from public view, Yale, like countless other colleges across America, chose the latter. And I hope that this case will make it more difficult, or at least more costly, for schools to continue to do so.